The season has taken a bite out of the No. 41 team since winning the Daytona 500. In the last few weeks they have begun to hit their stride again. This weekend they unloaded fast, stayed fast and finished fast. The end of the day was a top five finish. They now get ready to go to Michigan where horsepower is king and the Fords have a lot of ponies under the hood.
In Tech Talk this week, Gibson talks cooling of engines, gears and his drive. He also touches base on shifting patterns, tires and racing on the multi-groove track of Michigan International Speedway. He even gives a little insight into how teams analyze the torque they apply to the rear end of their cars.
Mike Neff: We ran last weekend at Pocono and you had a top five run. How did you feel like your weekend unfolded?
Tony Gibson: It went pretty good. We unloaded really fast. We qualified really good, top five in qualifying. We were top five in all of the practices. We knew we had just raw speed and that is always a good thing. We fought a little bit tight all weekend, in the race too. We were just a little too tight. We worked on it and worked on it and eventually got it too free into the tunnel turn. So we kind of eased off of that so that we got it back to where we started by the end of the race. We had a solid top five car. I don’t know that we had the speed to win with. I felt like we had a third to fifth place car all day. It was a good day for us for sure.
Neff: We saw a few people have issues with brakes up there. Is it a situation where you have to make a decision on weight versus performance as you determine which brake package you want to put on your car?
Gibson: Brakes are kind of funny. Everybody thinks that heavier is better and that isn’t always the case. It is the combination between the caliper size and the rotor size and the amount of ducting that you’re trying to get to it. Obviously rotors can withstand a lot more temperature than the calipers. For me, up there, I always want to run a bigger caliper which allows you to run more fluid and that helps to keep it cool, yet keep the heat in the rotor. What happens there is the rotors have a time to cool down the long straightaways. Then you heat them up drastically into three and they end up vibrating. What happens is the rotor isn’t hot enough so the pad material ends up just balling up on the rotor because it isn’t hot enough to burn it off. Then guys get vibrations and all that goes with them.
It is just a matter of matching up the caliper size to the rotor size for how much brake your drive is using and maintaining the temperatures. I go a little bit different direction than most. I’ve been that way for years. Just approach it in a different way. Most everybody has their way that they like to do. It is what it is. With this downforce package you are using brakes a lot more so that caused a lot of guys to have issues. I’m sure they’ll come back with a bigger package and get it figured out.
Neff: Aero was a big advantage, as it has been all year. However it was not a total advantage. Kyle Busch held off the field for some time but they did run him down and pass him quickly. Was it a decent advantage between the aero advantage and the difficulty of handling the cars up there?
Gibson: Track position is still everything. The 21 was really, really good. For Kyle, aero side of things kept him out in front of the 21. It made it so hard for him to pass, strictly the aero package.. Older tires the grip obviously gave up but it shows you that somebody on fresh tires still has a hard time passing someone who has clean air. Clean air changes the balance so much it is still hard to overcome even with new tires. If they take your lane away, which Kyle was doing, the 21 was really struggling. The aero is still a huge part of our racing, trying to figure out how guys can pass more and do more things, but it is still an issue.
Neff: We are headed to the Irish Hills of Michigan to the track that has recently been the fastest track on the circuit. Have we left the rock hard tires behind after a few winters in Michigan have aged the track a little bit?
Gibson: I think the tires continue to change. Goodyear continues to change things up. The dual zone tire gives you some options, with camber, to gain grip or take grip away from one corner to another. The race track loses a little more grip each time we go back which calls for a little bit softer tire. Plus, when the downforce comes off of these things, like it has now, the straightaway speeds get to be so fast that having a hard tire is just really not the way to go. Goodyear has been up there a few times testing some different tires and trying to get it figured out. I don’t know that you’ll ever get a tire at Michigan that can handle the speeds we’re trying to run that has the grip we need. It is just so misbalanced right now, I don’t know that they’ll ever hit it but I feel like they’re getting a lot closer.
Neff: One of the advantages at Michigan is that you can run from the top to the bottom of the track. Does that ability for the driver to pick multiple lanes make it easier for you to set up a car?
Gibson: I wouldn’t say it is any easier. It is harder to be able to run the bottom and the top because our bump stop loads and the wheel loads change so much from the bottom of the track to the top you have to sacrifice a little bit of both. You have to give up a little bit of the bottom if you’re going to be able to run at the top. I don’t think anyone is as good on the bottom as they are on the top. They give up a little bit of one versus the other to make sure they are halfway decent in both lanes. This aero package we are taking back this time is going to be even worse for that. It is going to be really tricky getting into turn three. Cars are going to be extremely aero loose. Getting in on the top is going to be a handful. Those guys like Larson, those cats that like to run up there, they figure it out. They know what they need to run up there. The guys that don’t like it, they’re going to struggle if they have to go up there. It will be interesting. It should be a really good race. It is always three and four wide up there and it always turns out to be a really good race.
Neff: On the engine cooling side of things, with the kind of speeds we run up there, and the long sweeping corners, you’re in the throttle for quite a bit of the time. Is that something that forces you to open the opening in the front of the car a little bit more to get extra air to the radiator to help keep the engine cool thanks to the limited amount of off throttle time?
Gibson: Yeah, it is very difficult, it is very hard on the valve train on the motor. They take a beating and they don’t get to breathe at all until we have a caution. Once the tires get hot towards the middle of the run, guys will start lifting a little bit more, especially getting in on the high side. Guys will lift early and breathe the motor a little bit before they get back into the throttle. It is still a lot of sustained RPMs. It is really, really tough on everything to be honest with you. It is supposed to be like 90 up there on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if guys have issues because of that heat.
Neff: Speaking of the 90s, it is going to hot all of the way around the car. How hard is it to cool the rear end of the car when it is so hot out and you are in a pack of cars?
Gibson: It is very difficult. All of that stuff is really hard to keep cool. Our cars are so low to the ground they stay sealed off to the track all of the way around. It is really hard to keep everything cooled down. We have gear fans and all of that jazz but it is still really tough to keep that stuff cool.
Neff: Speaking of keeping cool, does your driver get extra comfort this weekend thanks to the anticipated heat or is that a sacrifice he has to make in order to keep the overall weight down on the car?
Gibson: We’ll run the same thing we do every week. He’ll have his AC and we’ll utilize the holes in the right side window, that double duct over there, we’ll utilize that. We’ll have the same thing we do every week. That is really all NASCAR allows us to have. We’ll try and make it as efficient as we can. He’ll have everything aimed where he wants it to be aimed and hopefully it is enough.
Neff: This week some Ford teams stated they were going to bigger axles after a couple of them had issues with axles snapping. Do you have telemetry that measures the torque being applied to the rear end as these cars launch out of the box?
Gibson: We do, we’ve done that at several test sessions before. We can simulate it here at the shop in our pit stop simulation area. We do a lot of that and we have done it a lot in the past to collect that data and work on that area. It was really tough when the tires were really soft and gummy. We were breaking them all of the time. I know that some of our guys are still having some issues. I think most of the time it is heat related more than anything. We do have everything we need. We’ve done that before, collect the data. We still use it today to check and see where we’re at. We’ll go test somewhere to test and do some practice launches, to collect that data on different tires at different tracks.
Neff: Last weekend, Dale Jr. had some issues with his shift patterns at Pocono. Is that something that can vary based on driver preference or is the pattern locked in based on the manufacturer?
Gibson: The shift pattern is the same, guys run different handles. They are different shapes and angles and heights. The internal parts, the little dogs inside that synchronize the gears from connecting and disconnecting, you can change the angles on those to make it easier or harder to go into gear. There are a lot of things that you can do to help do different things for each driver . As far as pattern, it is all the same for everybody.
Neff: We saw the penalties that were handed down for Dover. The teams who had wheels come off as soon as they were leaving the pits. Is that something you feel like NASCAR needs to revisit since those teams were penalized during the race simply by their failure to execute, not trying to gain a competitive advantage?
Gibson: Yeah, I think NASCAR is working hard on that. I know they are working hard to make sense of everything and be fair about it. Right now, a rule is a rule. It is what it is. I am pretty sure that is one thing that is on their radar, especially for next year, to maybe reevaluate and see what they can do to change that. I don’t think anyone likes fining anybody. It is a rule that is out there. It doesn’t really say how or when, or in case this happens or that happens. They’ll clarify some things and make it a little bit better. Hopefully next year it gets sorted out.